The coming year will be a very challenging one for Haiti as it seeks to recover and rebuild from January’s tragic earthquake, but with the right international support the country can embark on a new era of stability and growth, the top United Nations official there said today.
“I believe the next 12 to 18 months are a period of great challenge and risk in Haiti, but one which we can help the Government to weather,” Edmond Mulet, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), told a Security Council meeting.
“What Haiti needs now is a supporting arm of a companion on which it can lean as it gets back on its feet. That is the role which we, the international community, can play,” he added.
Dozens of nations and organizations are assisting the small Caribbean country in the wake of the 12 January quake, which killed more than 200,000 people – including 101 UN staff members – and left 1.3 million more homeless, in addition to damaging Government buildings and vital infrastructure.
Mr. Mulet said Haiti’s path to stability following this tragedy depends above all on adherence to the political and electoral timetable to enable a constitutional hand-over of power in February 2011.
Falling behind in this regard would “seriously undermine the stability we have been working towards in Haiti for many years,” he stated.
The coming year will also witness new security pressures, including from criminals who are now at large again in the wake of the earthquake, as well as economic risks with millions living in very vulnerable conditions, and the risk of new natural disasters.
“However, I believe there is good reason to think that Haiti and its international partners can manage and mitigate those risks,” said Mr. Mulet. “If we do so, I hope that within two years, we could again be in the position we had reached in 2009 – a Haiti that is relatively stable and growing economically.”
To manage this critical period, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his latest report on MINUSTAH, asks the Council to endorse a strengthening of the mission to enable it provide better support to recovery efforts. This includes a surge in the mission’s police presence to help ensure their visibility on the streets and in camps for displaced people.
Mr. Ban noted that much of the required “surge” can be achieved by scaling up activities within the current mandate, while a few areas of the mission should provide greater technical, operational and logistical assistance to Haiti’s Government and State institutions.
“Whereas before the earthquake, the mission was entering a period of consolidation, a surge effort is now needed for the next 18 months to two years, in which the mission will help the Government preserve the gains of stabilization to date and enable a smooth transition to long-term reconstruction,” he wrote.
Echoing the Secretary-General’s call, Mr. Mulet said that with just a little more of the support that the UN is already providing, Haiti will make its own way forward. “That would be the best end to the terrible story of 12 January 2010, and a necessary, fitting tribute to the lives of those we have lost.”
Haiti’s Prime Minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, thanked Council members for the solidarity shown in the wake of the earthquake, noting that the tragedy has profoundly changed the context in which MINUSTAH is working.
The coming 18 months will present his Government with new risks within the framework of reconstruction and post-disaster management, during which the presence of MINUSTAH will remain necessary. This is particularly true with regard to the holding of free and fair elections.
Challenges that were already great before the earthquake are greater today, but the solidarity of the international community provides the people and Government of Haiti with the hope that a brighter future is possible, he told the 15-member body.
Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro announced that the UN, working with the Haitian Government and other partners, is planning a nationwide movement for learning in the country.
“In the aftermath of disaster, school does more than promote learning. It gives children a sense of normalcy amid the chaos. It is a place of security and sanctuary. Above all, it offers hope for the future,” the Deputy Secretary-General wrote in an opinion piece published today in Mexico’s El Sol.
She added that in her native Tanzania, the founding president was known by the highest title bestowed, “Teacher.”
“President Julius ‘Mwalimu’ Nyerere’s first principle of self-reliance was grounded on education, for girls as well as boys – a legacy of gender equality that paved the way for my own career,” Ms. Migiro wrote.
The international community raised nearly $10 billion for Haiti at last month’s donors’ conference in New York. It is not clear yet how much of the money will be allocated for education.
Some 38,000 students and 1,300 teachers and other education personnel lost their lives in the quake, which also destroyed more than 4,000 schools as well as the Ministry of Education’s headquarters, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The UN agency and its partners have been working with the Haitian Government to provide 3,000 school tents, educational materials, recreational items and furniture for children whose schools were destroyed or who are seeking refuge in camps.